A brutal crime takes place; onlookers shrug and do nothing. The stabbing death of a woman named Kitty Genovese outside her apartment building in Queens in 1964 was the archetypal instance of such a social phenomenon. Or was it? “The Witness,” a documentary opening on Friday, June 3, calls the familiar version of the case into question. The specter of public indifference was carved in stone by reporting in The New York Times that said dozens of witnesses ignored the victim’s calls for help. This film, directed by James Solomon, challenges that contention, using witness accounts, police reports and more as Bill Genovese, Kitty’s brother, searches for a less callous version of her death. In re-examining the case, the film becomes a study of how the news media shapes narratives that can take on a life of their own when, as in this case, they capture an attitude or opinion that was waiting to be crystallized.
A picture credit in an earlier version of this article contained an incorrect attribution. The photo is from The Witnesses Film, LLC, not FilmRise.